What is The Late, Great Canadian Indie Roadshow Revival?

The quick and tidy answer…
The LGCIRR is a new, artist-driven DIY initiative focused on developing an interactive and sustainable theatrical distribution and exhibition model for feature-length filmmakers producing challenging and idiosyncratic work outside of the Canadian commercial film industry.

This initiative has three primary goals:

i) To promote the role of the filmmaker-as-artist actively involved with many, if not all levels of the project (including marketing and interaction with audiences upon release), as opposed to the role of a director simply as a production company functionary; and

ii) To provide mentorship and logistical (and eventually material) support to those filmmakers that are either self-releasing their work or represented by smaller distributors to promote and present their work before a live audience, with an emphasis on engaging viewers and fellow filmmakers through discussions, panels and special presentations.

iii) To develop a network and relationship with exhibitors across Canada willing to host future Roadshow Revival film releases

The long-term strategy for the Roadshow Revival is to establish a release model that can be adopted by future filmmakers as an alternative to the diminishing opportunities provided by traditional Canadian film distributors and exhibitors, and subsequently be recognized as a legitimate commercial release option for provincial and federal tax credit program eligibility. The expectation is to have the Roadshow Revival continue on an annual (or even semi-annual) basis with new films following the 2012 launch.

Primordial Ties is the inaugural 2012 Roadshow Revival release. The filmmaker is available to accompany the screenings to discuss the work, the creative process and, most importantly, the need to engage with an audience through a grassroots initiative like the Revival (attendance subject to certain conditions and availability). Contact us for more information.

The backstory and blueprint…
The single greatest challenge facing Canadian independent filmmakers today – especially those working outside of the major production centres and without the support of traditional public funding sources – is finding access to a domestic theatrical audience. For both emerging and established filmmakers, it is no longer enough to produce a thoughtful, fresh and exceptional film, gather some critical traction on the festival circuit, only to find that there is simply no space or place for the work to be shown in today’s market. Unless their films have significant marketing budgets and media exposure, even major Canadian distributors cannot secure sustainable access to screens as the domestic market shrinks and shifts toward a homogenized, monolithic business model. With the fortunate exception of Quebec – which has long promoted domestic Francophone production and nurtured its constituent audience – this market shift provides increasingly less opportunity to promote the diversity of this country’s English-language film production before a live, theatrical audience.

For the filmmaker – aside from the valued recognition of the vaunted festival launch and the sterile promise of posterity through the disposable digital media delivery options that typically follow – the whole strategy and romance of releasing an independent film in Canada has been compromised, if not destroyed, by this market dynamic. Based on box office returns alone (and with very few exceptions), this situation has buried the output of the Canadian film industry to the point of invisibility, especially in the smaller domestic markets.

However, the best opportunity this difficult situation provides is that it will force Canadian independent filmmakers to establish themselves outside of the purely commercial model and reconsider their approach to connecting with their audiences. This is especially important for those filmmakers producing work that is bold, offbeat and more intellectually or artistically-inclined, because the prospects for breaking into the conventional commercial realm on its established, formulaic terms are increasingly bleak. As a comparable example, a substantial part of the music industry – whose retail business model was blighted by the illegal downloading practices of the digital generation – adapted and survived by embracing a renewed DIY (do-it-yourself) approach that involved, for example, artists self-releasing their work, reasserting control of their management, prioritizing artistic integrity over market demands, and organically growing their audiences by engaging directly with them through steady gigging, social media, etc. Hopefully the Canadian film establishment can learn something from this, because nurturing the visibility of tomorrow’s talent is entirely contingent on the vitality of today’s independent filmmakers – who are, for the most part, currently working underground and commercially out-of-view.

And so what is an ambitious-but-unknown low-budget Canadian independent filmmaker to do with this situation – especially one working on their own terms and at their own expense, outside of the industry with nothing but their second mortgage, fading ambition and artistic integrity on the line? Pack up and go home? No chance. Better yet: Hit the road with The Late, Great Canadian Indie Roadshow Revival!

The plan of action for The Late, Great Canadian Indie Roadshow Revival is to literally take the show on the road – to organize a Canadian screening/speaking/performance tour around the release of my latest feature film, Primordial Ties. In addition to stops in the major urban centres, the tour will also target those smaller markets in between that are traditionally underserved in terms of exposure to Canadian independent cinema. While the majority of the venues will be conventional film theatres, the tour will also target cultural and academic environments such as art galleries, museums, schools, universities, libraries as well as fresh and unorthodox alternatives such as bars, cafes, tent shows and rooftops. Cultivating a diverse audience through a range of innovative and flexible venue options will be a key part of the strategy, as long as the technical aspects of the presentation are not compromised or detract from the viewing experience.

In addition to discussing the narrative content of the film itself, the greater context of the presentation will involve debating why it has become necessary for today’s Canadian independent filmmaker to create their own opportunities for public exposure, such as the Roadshow Revival screenings, when the commercial market simply can no longer provide one. In the United States, for example, filmmaker Lance Hammer decided to personally book and travel with Ballast, his 2008 Sundance award winner, as an alternative to a distribution system that simply couldn’t accommodate the film’s target audience (read about it HERE). In 2011, celebrated indie alumnus Kevin Smith (of Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Zack and Miri Make a Porno fame) did something similar with Red State, his latest film, circumventing the traditional corporate-controlled releasing system to personally present the film, city-to-city, in protest. These examples support the claim that the need for alternatives to the existing theatrical distribution system is not limited to Canada, but extends to the American market as well, if not further. For the Roadshow Revival tour, this critical aspect of the discussion could involve a small panel of fellow filmmakers and industry professionals, such as programmers and exhibitors, assessing this situation in Canada and exploring how to move forward, either following a live screening or through an on-line discussion forum such as this website.

Further to that aspect of the discussion, it is important that the inaugural Roadshow Revival tour demonstrates to new and emerging filmmakers in Canada that it is still possible to find and engage a live audience with their work, especially at a time when their only release options might be limited to DVD (which, in some respects, is already a dead medium), broadcast or VOD. The long-term goal is to set a precedent with this effort so that future filmmakers can consider modeling their theatrical releases on what The Late, Great Canadian Indie Roadshow Revival was able to accomplish, in terms of increased visibility and audience development. Another possibility would be for future filmmakers to adopt this model and formally travel their films under the Roadshow Revival name as a sort of franchised, branded banner for promoting low-budget Canadian independent films when a traditional commercial release is out of reach.

From a marketing standpoint, it will be important to promote the Roadshow Revival screenings as special, singular events, more than what the multiplex can offer in terms of a stimulating, interactive discourse and, in simpler terms, something that is in large part socially-grounded and fun. In the case of Primordial Ties, this could involve a brief, pre-show performance by the soundtrack composer on his Mellotron and collection of very rare, analog synthesizers, or possibly a live, light-hearted post-show psychoanalysis of the director by a guest professional, all of which can be followed up by a casual afterglow at a local business establishment. I helped to organize something similar with celebrated Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, titled “Psyched Out: Art and the Unconscious”, in 2008 when I served as programmer for the Windsor International Film Festival. The event, which featured a live psychoanalysis of Maddin by a psychiatrist and Jungian analyst at the Art Gallery of Windsor, was an enormously successful event which drew a large audience from many different academic and social backgrounds. With the Roadshow Revival screenings, it could be possible to organize something similar, but on a smaller and more attainable scale. The tour can also be coordinated in conjunction with a limited-edition DVD release, which could include a series of different sleeves produced by guest artists and designers, as well as added features such as essays and commentaries that might not be found on the subsequent commercial DVD releases. Ultimately, all of this added dressing for the event serves to reinvigorate the movie-going experience by eliminating the distance between the artist and the audience, providing the viewer with a memorable and stimulating experience.

In terms of the promotional campaign, the usual advertising means will be explored, such as print advertising, poster campaigns, radio and print interviews and social media networking. However, the key promotional vehicle for the Roadshow Revival will be an attractive website that not only promotes the tour, but will feature daily blog entries by the filmmaker, sharing, explaining and documenting the challenges involved with mobilizing and sustaining the effort. In addition to serving as a marketing tool, the website will also serve to facilitate dialogue between the audience and filmmaker through an accessible online forum, as well as provide a networking opportunity for filmmakers interested in potential future involvement with the Roadshow Revival.

In support of this project, I will be working with consultant Andre Bennett, a veteran industry professional who promoted the early works of established Canadian filmmakers Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin, Peter Mettler, Patricia Rozema and Bruce McDonald through Cinéphile, his first theatrical distribution company. With a proven ability to recognize singular talent and potential, Andre was instrumental in helping to develop and grow the careers of these major contemporary Canadian filmmakers. As a distributor – now with Cinema Esperança International – he has built longstanding and trusted relationships with programmers and exhibitors across the country through the diversity and quality of his catalogue.

The success of the The Late, Great Canadian Indie Roadshow Revival will be measured not only by the box-office numbers or how well it might establish me as a filmmaker, but how it might inspire other filmmakers to undertake the same effort for themselves. No question about it – right now, the theatrical market is tough, but not impossible, especially with a bit of imagination in terms of calling out your audience. And while the audience for the Roadshow Revival – and in this case, Primordial Ties – would most likely include industry professionals, film students and those already interested in Canadian cinema or sympathetic to innovative, low-budget films, the most valued would be the casual, curious moviegoer who just happened to come by the theatre that night and was rewarded with experiencing something more engaging and memorable than anything the multiplex could have ever offered them.

Otto Buj
Producer/Director, Primordial Ties
Founder, The Late, Great Canadian Indie Roadshow Revival

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